get smarter about poison ivy, with dr. susan pell

poison ivy 1NO, POISON IVY was not put on the planet to punish mankind, or to boost antihistamine sales. As with every native plant—and yes, Toxicodendron radicans is an American native—it has an important role in the bigger scheme, supporting wildlife and providing erosion control. With help from Dr. Susan Pell of the United States Botanic Garden, we’ll get a much closer look at it from a very safe distance, and hopefully learn to manage around poison ivy better, but also to give it the respect it deserves.

Susan is intimately familiar with poison ivy and its relatives, because she has for years studied them right down to the molecular level. She is Science and Public Programs Manager at the historic United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., a fellow of the National Science Foundation, and former Director of Science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

But I invited Susan to my public-radio show and podcast in this reprise episode for another reason that she states on her LinkedIn profile, alongside all those impressive scientific credentials: because, she says, she loves to show people “the coolness of plants.”

So keep an open mind, gardeners, as we explore the “cool” of poison ivy—and of course practical, more obvious matters like what to do to avoid that damn rash. Read along as you listen to the June 22, 2015 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher or Spotify(and browse my archive of podcasts here).

poison ivy 2

read/listen: my poison-ivy q&a with dr. susan pell



Q. Your area of research concentration has been the cashew family [or Anacardiaceae], Susan, correct?

A. I study the evolution and diversity of the cashew family, which includes poison ivy among its members, and pistachios, mangos, sumacs, smoke trees—a lot of plants gardeners are familiar with.

Q. Smoke trees, meaning Cotinus?

A. Yes.

Q. That’s one I didn’t know was related, or it had fled from my mind. Interesting.

A. It’s actually pretty closely related to poison ivy.

Q. Now everyone: Don’t be afraid of your smoke bush!

A. Or sumac—except poison sumac. The genus Rhus is perfectly fine.

Q. The members of the cashew family that most U.S. gardeners are aware of are poison ivy and poison sumac—where are their native ranges?

A. It kind of depends on how you recognize the species of poison ivy. There are some very closely related species—I’ll call them sister species. If you include those under the common name poison ivy, then poison ivy is found in every state in the U.S. except for California. Although you do find poison oak there—so you get your share of the genus Toxicodendron there that way.

The genus that causes the rash is Toxicodendron—which means “poison tree.” Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all species within that genus. Common names are where we get into the trouble area, but in the strictest sense poison ivy is Toxicodendron radicans. It’s found from the Midwest to the Eastern United States.

But if you include other species, like T. rydbergii, and some other species in that genus that all get called poison ivy, it extends everywhere in the United States except California.

Q. And which one does California have again? I’m sure they don’t escape entirely.

A. They have Toxicodendron diversilobum, poison oak, and it is quite nasty. In fact, I’ve seen some reports suggesting that 15 percent of the State of California’s entire workmen’s comp budget is spent on poison oak-related absences and injuries, and that’s mostly related to firefighters. People fight the wild-land fires that California has, and there is poison oak in it and they’re inhaling that smoke. They can be in the hospital or out of work for weeks.

Q. It’s one of the things we’re warned about: If you do have debris from any of these plants, do not burn it.

A. Correct.

from Wikimedia CommonsQ. What species is poison sumac [above]?

A. It’s Toxicodendron vernix. It is found just in the Eastern United States. Its range is a little more restricted than T. radicans; it occurs from Texas and Louisiana eastward, but it doesn’t get deep into the Midwest (or into the West). It’s in wet and very swampy areas.

Q. My garden is surrounded by state park. In two areas by the woodland edges I lost trees last fall, and the conditions changed. This spring, poison ivy has romped quickly in, like it was just poised looking for an opportunity. It that its typical behavior—is it an opportunist?

A. It definitely is. Poison ivy is what is called a successional plant. It really takes over in areas that have been newly cleared—say, by the building of a roadway, or maybe they’re continuously mowed, or in your situation where you have a tree fall down.

What happens is that there is a new resource available in that habitat on the ground level, and that’s light. Either poison ivy seeds will germinate, or the rhizomes sprout—these underground, horizontal stems that are in many cases underfoot where you don’t even know they are. They may sprout stems and come up above ground, and you’ll see them.

There may have been poison ivy there in a very light way, maybe a few plants here and there, and then once that light resource is released by the taking down or falling of a tree, those plants are able to thicken and grow more stems and really take over.

It’s an early successional plant, and grow wells in disturbed areas. Some people would call it weedy.

Q. You mentioned that it can move around by rhizomes. It has fruits, so it can also be moved around by birds and maybe mammals?

A. The fruits are actually an important food for wildlife; a lot of birds eat them. Deer have been known to eat them, and in some cases rodents like mice do. So they get moved around through animals’ guts and deposited in areas away from the plant.

Q. The sort of nursery-rhyme wisdom I was taught decades ago was, “leaves of three run and flee,” but poison ivy isn’t so easily typecast, is it? It can be quite variable in appearance, can’t it? 

poison ivy 3A. It absolutely can. The leaves can be shiny or not shiny; they can have those red stems or petioles or not (they can be green sometimes). The shade of green is very different in the leaves. The leaves can be quite large—one leaflet can be the size of your head, or the size of one of your fingers, enormous or quite small.

In some areas occasionally they will have five leaflets, not three—though it’s very rare. In one population in Texas, this characteristic has apparently become fixed so the entire population of poison ivy in this one area actually has five leaflets. I have seen occasional collections from other states that have five leaflets. But for the most part: Leaves of three, let it be, or leaves of three, run and flee—those are pretty good rhymes to remember.

Q. They say everything grows bigger in Texas. [Laughter.] The leaf edges can be quite different; you have to look carefully.

A. It’s so true: The margins of the leaves may be smooth, what we call entire, or they may be toothed, or very jagged, or they may be like an oak leaf.

Q. And the habit of the plant—the new plants in my disturbed areas are like a herbaceous groundcover, but along my road there are many big, hairy-looking woody vines wrapping around trunks of very old trees.

A. That’s right. It can have quite a different habit, depending on where it’s growing, and what conditions it’s under. Also depending on probably some of the genetic makeup of the plant as well. Some of these things historically have been treated as separate species or varieties, or sub-species of poison ivy: Sometimes there’s one characteristic was used to recognize that—maybe that it’s freestanding, instead of climbing.

But really when we look across poison ivy we see that it can be a climbing plant, as you said. Sometimes those climbing plants can have quite large trunks of their own and big branches, such that if they’re growing up a tree, the branches of the tree may actually be poison ivy branches, not the branches of the tree. Sometimes the tree it’s on is dead and it looks like it’s the tree.

Q. [Laughter.] “Little Shop of Horrors.”

A. And sometimes they can be small groundcover, and freestanding. I’ve seen in coastal New Jersey, for instance, a shrub of poison ivy that was about 7 feet tall, and had smooth black bark. It was definitely poison ivy—but it was this 7-foot shrub with smooth black bark.

Q. It’s an important plant ecologically—and even a beautiful plant, for instance in fall color. But nobody likes it (except for you!) because it causes an allergic reaction in some people. I have to confess: I’ve been crawling around in the underbrush much of my adult life, and I have never had the rash.  

A. About 10 to 15 percent of the human population is immune to poison ivy, and will never have a rash.

I have given lectures around the country about this topic, and someone will come up to me and say, “I’m in my 60s, and I never had poison ivy, and now I get the rash.” And I say: “Has anything changed?” And they answer that they retired and now they garden all the time—they increased their access, their exposure.

So you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and assume that you have lifetime immunity. I’d say you’re probably safe in that assumption because you do have so much exposure to it, being an avid gardener. But for people who haven’t had that kind of lifetime exposure and don’t get a rash, I wouldn’t count myself among that 10 to 15 percent who are immune. You can develop a rash later in life, and the more exposure you have, the more likely you are to get the rash—not the reverse.

Sometimes people say, “If I just keep exposing myself I won’t get the rash anymore,” and we don’t really see that to be true.

Q. Why did the plant develop this chemical—certainly not to torture us, right?

A. It’s called urushiol, and basically these compounds essentially only give people a rash, though there are some reports that maybe other primates get it.

These compounds have a lot of protective qualities for the plant—not chasing people off from picking the leaves, but actually fighting off diseases, microbial attacks: fungal, bacterial and viral attacks. There have been quite a few studies that have looked at the effectiveness of the anti-microbial properties of these compounds.

Q. So it developed urushiols as a defense mechanism against disease—not against predation.

A. The compounds don’t seem to have any effect on the animals that eat them. You can see poison ivy leaves that have been almost decimated by various insects eating them. I’ve seen deer grazing on poison ivy, and certainly birds and other other animals eat the fruit.

Q. Does urushiol have any economic uses, or uses in medicine? I think I read it was used in Japanese lacquer.

A. In several countries in Southern Eastern Asia, the sap or the urushiols of the trees of Toxicodendron are harvested—the same genus we have here, but a different species—and also trees from another genus called Gluta that occurs in that area. They’ll slash the bark—put lines down the bark, and put a little bucket there, the same way you’d harvest rubber from a rubber tree, and how you can harvest maple sap from a maple trees, though slightly different.

They’ll harvest that sap, boil it down for a very long time, and either use it to apply to fine woodworking (which is what they do more in Japan) or to these very weak bamboo structures, which is what you see in Burma, or Myanmar. They build these little bamboo structures, and put on 10 or 15 or 20 coats of this lacquer—this boiled-down sap from Toxicodendron.  They make these beautiful works of art.

Q. I hear people say they are going to wait to tackle an invasion till the poison ivy leaves fall in autumn—to avoid getting the rash. I say, “I don’t think so.” [Laughter.]

A. That’s a very bad idea. Every single part of the plant, except maybe the actual seed inside the fruit, can cause a rash. They all have these resin canals that have the ururshiols in them. If you look at the fruit in the fall, it’s a beautiful cream color—and I say beautiful because I love poison ivy, but some people don’t.

Q. Because you’re a nutty, botany kind of person. [Laughter.]

A. The fruits have black lines in them, and those are actually these resin canals. They’re present throughout the plant. If you snap off a leaf or cut the stem and see the sap coming out of it, you can watch it turning black as it oxidizes with exposure to the air. That black sap is what is going to give you the rash. That black sap runs in the stems in the wintertime; it’s still present in the leaves that fall off. I’ve heard of people getting rashes from 20-year-old plants that have been collected and dried and pressed in our natural-history collection.

I’ve heard of people getting rashes from gardening equipment they hadn’t used in two years, because it wasn’t washed properly.

Q. People make the connection that because jewelweed sometimes grows near poison ivy, they think if they put the jewelweed on that will solve everything, but that’s not right, is it?

A. No, it’s not. Jewelweed has some properties that bring swelling down, so it would be fine to use jewelweed after you have the rash and have some swollen areas. But it’s not going to do anything to prevent the rash.

Basically these compounds, the urushiols, bind to your skin cells—to the little proteins in your skin cells. So if you’re someone who’s going to get a rash, you’ll get it. The key thing is to prevent the binding from happening—to wash, and remove all those oils as soon as you possibly can after coming into contact with it.

There are some great products out there, like Tecnu, which basically binds to the urushiol before it can bind to your skin cells.

Q. You can’t spread the rash spread to yourself or others, when the blisters break, or if you touch the rash to another part of your body or to someone else?

A. Once you wash yourself, or wash your tools or your dog—if your dog’s been romping in the poison ivy—there’s nothing on you or in that rash, even if it’s oozing, that can cause a rash. What you see on your body is actually your own immune system fighting your own body. The binding of the urushiols to the proteins in your skin cells makes your immune system recognize your body as foreign, and attack them. All of those liquids that come into that rash have nothing to do with the poison ivy plant—it’s your own body fluid.

Q. So what do I do next with my garden invasions of poison ivy? Usually I dig it out and bag it up or dispose of the dug-up plants in the woods.

A. If you have the wherewithal to dig it out, that’s a really good method. I’m a proponent of not using a lot of chemicals in the garden, but if you have a severe allergy to it and have to get rid of it, I would say very selective applications of herbicides—painting it onto the leaves directly, and not doing wholesale spraying—is an appropriate application, in my opinion.

You can do physical removal, but those rhizomes are really strong, and when you break them up even a tiny fragment can resprout. So it’s very hard to remove it all, if that’s what you have to do.

Q. So basically I should just give up, is that what you’re telling me? [Laughter.]

A. And enjoy the beautiful fall color, and know that you’re feeding birds.

Q. I do love it along the outer property edge and always leave it there. I’m just not so happy that it’s now romping in among the perennials. 

So in our shifting climate, I imagine this is one of the creatures that’s doing well.

A. It is. There was a study done about 10 years ago out of Duke Forests by Duke University. They have a forest where they are increasing the carbon dioxide levels artificially—really mimicking what we estimate will be the situation with climate change. What they found is that pretty much all plants grow better when they have more carbon dioxide, just like we do when we have more oxygen. But they also found that the urushiols are worse—so what we have to look forward to is more poison ivy, and meaner poison ivy.

Q. Well aren’t you just Miss Perky over there? [Laughter.] Thank you so much for all the information on poison ivy.

visiting the u.s. botanic garden

campusaerial2013THE UNITED STATES Botanic Garden where Dr. Susan Pell is Science and Public Programs Manager is situated at the foot of the Capitol Building, on the Mall, in Washington D.C. There is a historic conservatory, plus outdoor gardens, with exhibits and public programs, and an extensive plant collection with a diversity of habitats represented outdoors and in.

The Garden offers a medicinal and poisonous plants tour pretty regularly (see the events calendar).

prefer the podcast version of the show?

MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its 10th year in March 2019. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the June 22, 2015 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify
or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

(Poison sumac photo from Wikimedia Commons. Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)

  1. Susan Harris says:

    To see what the US Botanic Garden looks like all year, visit this link, which
    also includes a collection of photos and a video of just the all-native Regional Garden throughout the season – and thanks to the staff for their help in creating it. Love that place!

  2. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    I have a persistent patch of poison ivy below a viburnum shrub. I cut off all visible parts annually, on my knees, wearing surgical gloves and long sleeves, open plastic bag nearby, wash my tools afterward and toss the offending foliage. I have not gotten a rash yet, but I know I am susceptible. I can’t get to the rhizome to eradicate it but hope to keep it in check. If only my neighbor felt the same way about his 20 foot long piece inside his lilac hedge.

    1. Durham says:

      What about if you put black plastic around the roots of the good bush and put gravel atop
      To keep the sunlight from the Ivy plants? Your plant can still get water and sunlight?

      My question is are there places in the world P Ivy will not grow?

      Thanks for the FYI good stuff.
      And yes I hate the plant.

  3. Vickie says:

    Interesting article, but I must say that I will not allow poison ivy to live on my property. My grandchildren get swollen to the point of having to be hospitalized. My neighbor insists on allowing the poison ivy to grow on her oak tree that is next to the fence where my compost pile is located. That darn thing had come under the fence and started to take over one area of my compost pile. I cannot bear to see my grandchildren the way I did two years ago as they lay in hospital beds unable to breathe. No way! I killed the damn vine with Roundup. Yes, I did. And it died. It browned up and died. Then I pulled it off the tree and my compost pile with my hands in a plastic bag and I threw it all away. I understand that the Roundup is systemic and killed the rhizomes too. I hope so anyway. I have checked that area for two years now and it has not returned, not even on my neighbor’s side. She has said nothing about it because she never checks for things like that anyway. We don’t speak because of that vine.

    1. margaret says:

      As Dr. Pell says in the interview: Removal with selective application of herbicide is warranted where it causes a danger to those with allergies to the plant.

      1. Vickie says:

        Thanks so much for reminding me of that from the interview. It is a valuable part of what she was talking about. I’m glad I got rid of mine. My grandkids take allergy shots for it now, but I sure don’t want to tempt fate. Thanks again for your enjoyable posts.

      2. Rick T. says:

        I’ve found products containing triclopyr much superior to those containing Roundup in controlling poison ivy. It also appears much more selective in what it kills as well. I’ve notice that native plants (which have gotten some overspray despite my best efforts) either do not seem to be effected or are only knocked back a bit. Of course, this is only anecdotal to my particular situation and plants.

        1. margaret says:

          Hi, Rick. I think triclopyr is labeled as a selective broadleaf herbicide, and that generally grasses therefore are not as susceptible to it as they are to glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup, for instance. You can read the fact sheets on both of them to compare, starting from those links.

        2. Scott says:

          Margaret…….thank you for your poison Ivy chat with Susan Pell. Excellent. This is where a selective herbicide application with a spreader sticker on the foliage can be most effective. Yours, Scott

  4. Andrew Elisson says:

    I have the good fortune to apparently be imune to it. I have had exposures from time to time and no reaction although other family members sre highly sensitive. As a child, I even picked a bundle of the stuff and presented it to my mother, who was none to happy with her gift.. Just wondering if the reason for my immunity to poison ivy may be known by scientists.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Andrew. I don’t know if doctors understand what makes the segment of the population who are immune to the reaction have that immunity. Good question!

  5. Carole Clarin says:

    Such an interesting interview! My clumps of poison ivy grow near my well so I’m concerned about using any sprays. I had sprayed several years ago but last year pulled out the plants I found but here they are again. Does the plant actually die when placed in a plastic bag?

  6. Alice Woody says:

    I have a good size vacant lot that was choking from kudzu. I, my friends, people I hired, and even people innocently walking their dogs down the street, have pulled, cut, mowed, and cursed the kudzu for 2 years. I wanted to avoid using herbicides so we worked our butts off and until our backs ached. It appears to be gone in parts of the lot and on the retreat in other parts.

    Now, this spring, poison ivy has appeared. I was hoping for native grasses.

    I am highly allergic to poison ivy. So now, I am going to paint the leaves or make a wand for controlled application of herbicides. One or two more days without rain should make the plants extra receptive.

    I almost cry every time I think about all that work to avoid pesticides with the kudzu and now having poison ivy take its place.

    I hope there is something good under the poison ivy.

  7. Carol says:

    Check with your town. My next door neighbor had rampant poison ivy for 40 yrs. Each summer, my sons and husband would get the rash badly, several times, from the poison ivy growing onto my property from the neighbor’s. About 5 yrs ago, a new family moved in, behind the neighbor. Her children got the rash from the neighbor’s poison ivy also. She went to the town about health issues. The town sent the neighbor a registered letter stating that she had to get rid of the poison ivy. She hired a landscaper for a whole day, and it was gone. Wish I had know that 35 yrs earlier!!

  8. Donna Trattar says:

    I am a NON-FAN of poison ivy. I am highly susceptible and when I get it, the only thing that does get rid of it is prednisone. There are shots for people who work in landscaping now. I suffered every summer and had to get shots because I was SO allergic to it. It was hell; I would get it in my hair, my ears, my entire body. AND, I lived in West Virginia and it where we lived, it was everywhere.

  9. Terry says:

    I have it growing up some tree trunks so I wondered if severing the stem will kill the part above the cut or will it continue to grow? I’m not sure how all the tiny hairy roots react.

  10. Tina says:

    I found out that I owned part of the woods behind my “all sun” property so I cleaned out around the trees and bought a push mower for the rest and put stones around the biggest tree and under planted with shade plants and my neighbors loved it and for the first time in my life I got poison ivy! It was terrible, I had to take a series of pills. One of the worst parts was that I burned all that in my burn pile! I got so sick I went to the emergency room. Any how now the big tree that I had fixed up so cute has over grown and I’m real Leary of going down there and fixing it. If I use the chemicals will it kill the other plants under there? And what do I do with the brush? I live in Kentucky so am I safe with the leaves of three rule?

  11. Erik says:

    Thanks for this great post, Margaret. It’s nice to have a better understanding of the plant — even if I have no intention of letting it continue to grow on my property! I’m terribly afraid of poison ivy since I know my family is highly allergic.

    Here’s what I’m not clear about: if I try to remove the stuff (instead of spraying it with chemicals), how can I protect myself and how do I clean my tools afterwards? I currently have poison ivy growing in the “back 40”, taking advantage of some opening we did in the canopy. What type of gloves should I use to handle it (is it true that the urushoils can penetrate some gloves?)? How do I clean any shovels, shears, etc that come in contact with the plant to ensure I don’t accidentally expose myself later?

    I really can only imagine attempting this in a hazmat suit and disposable garden tools but I know that’s silly. Would love to know how you approach removal on your property…

    1. margaret says:

      The Centers for Disease Control offers some advice here, and I use disposable (surgical type) gloves. One of the real oil-beating “soaps” like Technu is meant to help and more effective; I use plain brown soap and lather well before rinsing. There are barrier creams that can be applied to skin beforehand (CDC will mention those, too).

      I think the most important thing is you need to have the routine planned out, and follow it, and stay conscious/alert throughout–like you can’t be chatting and distracted and doing 3 other things. You suit up in long sleeves, serious boots, long pants, the disposable gloves, you go out with the long-handled tools to dig/cut out the ivy (or apply chemical if that’s your plan), you have the cleanup stuff ready before you go so you can put the tools into it when you return, you undress and put your clothes into a garbage bag (or right into the hot wash), and you do not detour en route to washing your skin.

      1. Gretchen Droesch says:

        Great information. Having suffered the consequences of growing up around poison ivy all my life, I’ve learned to dress as a”mummy”, when dealing with poison ivy. I “double glove” when using disposable gloves. I dig up and pull the distinctive orange root system. Sometimes the trailing vine/roots are so long contact is made to my face/head, which is why I wear a netted hat. Placing the ivy in a black plastic bag, I let it bake in the sun before sending it to the transfer station to be incinerated. My method works for me, but it’s a never ending battle.

    2. Linda B says:

      I am very sensitive to poison ivy and can recognize it instantly from several feet away! Worked with my husband doing survey work in residential and business properties and often came upon poison ivy. This is ancidotal, but we always carried cans of lysol spray with us. If we suspected our tools or shoes had come into contact with the stuff, when we got back to the truck we sprayed everything with the lysol. It was always effective. Of course when we got home we carefully put all clothes in the wash and ourselves, but sometimes that was many hours later. The lysol helped with that delay between exposure and clean-up. I believe I read somewhere that spraying with a product like that changes the molecular structure of the oil from the poison ivy. Washing with Tecnu and hot water works like a charm. Just sometimes there is no hot water available, so this is a good back up. Also spray on tools used at home when exposed to P.I. Thanks for the great conversation!

  12. Kathy says:

    Margaret, have you ever heard that tea tree oil would lessen the I intensity of the poison ivy rash? Has worked for me and I always get at least one case each summer. I think my dog and cats are responsible. Love them anyway!

  13. Diane says:

    I wash vigorously with Technu every time I handle poison ivy (with long leather gloves and completely covered arms, legs, ankles) because any exposed skin is susceptible. We have a lot of it, and whenever I encounter it, I pull it up carefully, roots included. We live at the edge of the woods, and it’s always encroaching. I’m considering Round Up, even though I’ve avoided using it for decades. But I digress…Technu is wonderful and works!

  14. Carolyn Roof says:

    Too many people are allergic to poison ivy to some degree. There are two ways to rid your yard of the offender: Put a plastic grocery bag over your hand, reach down to the base, pull the bag over the plant as you pull it up, and add to the garbage can. Or, spray with 20% vinegar available from a farm store and some hardware stores.

  15. Bill Bowen says:

    Alice Roosevelt used poison ivy as a ground cover along her walks at her Washington DC home. A novel landscape use.

    1. margaret says:

      That’s hilarious, Bill. Not sure it exactly puts out the welcome mat/send a “come on in” message, but wonderful.

  16. Dahlink says:

    That goes along with the famous quote:

    “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.”
    ― Alice Roosevelt Longworth

  17. Ann says:

    Very interesting! My great grandmother would say, “poison ivory”. We don’t have it on our property thank goodness. My younger son is highly allergic. My Mom has it on her property and it is the lighter shade of green in summer in Maryland. I love anything you do on viney plants. Have you done anything on deadly nightshade? We have that. In our woods.

  18. Mary says:

    Great interview with Dr. Susan and, being one who is allergic to poison ivy and know how miserable it can be, I thank her for the shared info. and tips.
    I always have Technu at the ready – along with OFF for the dreaded mosquitoes – for me they are an even worse outdoor problem being so prevalent at this time of year, grrr!
    I love gardening but so many hazards in summertime – I won’t even tell you about the 4 foot long snake (thankfully a fairly harmless black rat snake) which slithered out from under the hydrangea bushes a few days ago when I was watering!

  19. Cindy says:

    Some firefighters used copious amounts of petroleum jelly, lard etc on their skin. I suppose many use coconut oil or some of the more in style substances now. This generally helps, but in the case of poison ivy, maybe not so much. It is supposed to be pretty well absorbed. Many unguents burn.

    There are custom recipes out there for skin protection. Some firefighters have long family traditions. I recently heated half lard and shea butter with jewel weed. I have done it with butter and eggs. I am touchy about forearms. The back of the neck is bad also. The lesions there, that you see in nursing homes.

    Females tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and are supposed to be more sensiive to heat.

  20. Sheri says:

    Back in 1979 my daughter & I got this so bad we wound-up in the hospital. We had been camping out and doing some fishing. We had it everywhere, even in our eyes, mouth, and ears. The hospital staff smothered us in calamine lotion, gave us shots to calm us but they also had us drink goats milk from goats that had eaten the plant. Neither of us ever got it again.

  21. Greg Oldham says:

    I live in western Oregon. We don’t have poison ivy, but poison oak is everywhere. For years I lived in a forest of it. I ran milk goats. They ate the poison oak, I petted and milked them, then made cheese and soap from the milk. I got the rash pretty bad the first year, and to a lesser degree the next year (I fell in a patch and only had a little rash). After the first two years I no longer suffered from the rash. At all. I remained wary of the plant, but also did not remove it, except from the house garden areas, and I came to appreciate its great beauty. I now live on small acreage in the same area, and without the goats I do get some small spots of poison oak now and again. I wash with Tecnu and/or Dawn dish soap as soon as I can after exposure. I must say that watching a cow eat a 30-foot strand of poison oak was a horrible delight – it got rid of that strand for sure, but I didn’t want to go hug that cow!

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